Thousands of visitors will flock to 4-H fairs during July in more than 80 Indiana counties. But those who want to pick up their favorite fair food and head to the livestock barns should remember safe practices for their health - and for the health of animals.
Animals have bacteria and germs that can make people sick. Fair-goers can minimize the risk by limiting contact with animals and visits to barns, and also practicing good personal hygiene, said Angie Abbott, program leader for the College of Health and Human Sciences Extension and assistant director of Purdue Extension.
"One of the easiest - and most important - precautions we can all take to avoid spreading germs at county fairs is to wash our hands often and with soap," Abbott said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises the following when attending fairs:
* Locate hand-washing stations, and wash your hands with soap and running water often, including after going on a ride, before eating and drinking, after removing soiled clothes, and especially after petting an animal or touching any part of an animal's pen.
* Don't take food or drinks into animal areas.
* Don't take toys, pacifiers, cups, baby bottles or strollers into livestock barns. Bacteria and viruses can be transferred from animals to people on these objects.
* People who have been sick, who have a high risk of complications from the flu, who are pregnant or who have chronic health issues, should avoid contact with livestock, particularly swine.
Pigs can be infected with influenza strains that occur in different species, said Stephen B. Hooser, professor of veterinary medicine and director of the Indiana Animal Disease and Diagnostic Laboratory, based at Purdue. They can get the flu from other pigs, humans and birds.
A new variant strain of influenza A, H3N2v, was confirmed in Indiana and several other states last summer. This swine flu virus may pass between people and swine easier than other strains. In addition to people getting it from pigs, people infected with it can pass the virus along to pigs.
Last summer, the virus was confirmed in people and pigs at fairs during the same time period in Indiana and other states. Grant County Health Department officials confirmed that four people who visited the Grant County fair in Marion last week contracted H3N2v. Two of them had contact with swine.
More information on H3N2v is available on the Extension Disaster Education Network website at http://eden.lsu.edu/Topics/AgDisasters/SwineInfluenza/Pages/default.aspx
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offers more information at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/swineflu/h3n2v-fairs-factsheet.htm